Emergency patients had to wait in ambulances outside the Ulster Hospital “for hours” on two separate occasions last week — two months after a similar hold up left patients in need of emergency medical care “stranded”.
Strangford MP Jim Shannon described the present situation at the hospital as “a disgrace”.
Speaking on Monday (February 7) Mr Shannon said: “I have been made aware on two occasions last week, on Saturday and Wednesday, that up to five ambulances were queued outside the Ulster Hospital A&E for two hours as they waited for the staff to process the patients.
“The knock-on effect is that ambulances were then prevented from going to emergency calls with delays of up to 40 minutes before they could attend the incident or accident. If this was an isolated incident or a one-off it could be excused but this is happening with a regularity that causes concern to ambulance staff and hospital staff alike.
“I have written to the trust chairman and minister on this issue as I am very concerned and worried that delays in a queue because the A&E cannot take the patient means that ambulances are not able to do the work that they are called upon to do.
“The delay of up to 40 minutes that then occurs while an ambulance sits in a queue with engine running waiting to sign in their patient is totally unacceptable.
“The staff are concerned and their requests for support would seem to be falling on deaf ears. It is time to unclog those ears and start to listen to the staff and do the business and do it efficiently — people’s lives could be in the balance.”
Back in December it was claimed patients were left lying for hours in the back of ambulances outside the Ulster Hospital’s accident and emergency department because it was unable to cope with the number of admissions.
A spokesperson from the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust said: “The trust is well aware of this issue and has been taking steps to alleviate the situation. There has been a significant rise in the number of patients being admitted to hospital and this has caused pressures on beds within the hospital, resulting in backward pressure in the emergency department and the unloading of patients from ambulances.
“A total of 1,169 ambulances attended the Ulster Hospital emergency department in January which represents a 7.4% increase compared with the previous January and on average 38 ambulances per day arrived. Unfortunately, these do not arrive in a uniform way, with peaks and troughs that can put pressure on the system.”
Refurbishment work to “improve flow into and out of the emergency department” is ongoing, though this “ has had an impact on the capacity to unload patients from ambulances.”